Race driver Rusty Schmidt takes his last lap, business owner and entrepreneur | VailDaily.com

Race driver Rusty Schmidt takes his last lap, business owner and entrepreneur

Race driver Rusty Schmidt took his final checkered flag Sunday, Feb. 4. The Eagle Ranch resident died at home in his sleep, surrounded by his wife Geri, and his two sons, Scott and Max.

Born Max Joseph Schmidt on Jan. 19, 1942, he was nicknamed "Rusty" at an early age because of his hair color, and to avoid confusion with his father, who was also named Max.

Born and raised in Oglesby, Illinois, he married Geri Jaraczewski in 1962, graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in accounting and started on a life of adventure that most only dream about.

Rusty raced cars, and raised sons to follow in his footsteps and his tire tracks. His wife, Geri, supported them every crazy step of the way.

His start in racing

Rusty was an athlete and an exceptionally good golfer. As the story goes, he and a friend flew to southern Illinois in another friend's plane to play a game of golf. Among the wagers was who would own the plane when they reached the 19th hole. Rusty won, but as he wasn't a pilot, he sold the plane, bought a race car and was off to the races.

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That was the start of Schmidt Motor Sports, and the beginning of the Schmidt racing legacy.

Rusty bought his first racing Corvette in 1973, and raced Corvettes until 1986. Most weekends and some weekdays found him happily behind the wheel of a race car.

Schmidt was named Sports Car Club of America Rookie of the Year in 1974. He then turned professional and joined the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). He raced in Trans Am, attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, and raced in the Sebring 12 Hour Event, but his real love was the 24 Hours of Daytona, which he raced every year for 20 years, 1978-1998.

Back in the early days, before high tech improvements, onerous safety regulations and massive track improvements, racing The 24 Hours of Daytona was grueling and dangerous. It was a major accomplishment just to finish, since the track was pretty basic and had no lights. If you were still going around at dawn, then chances were you'd finish, although at that point generally 70 to 80 percent of the racers were already out. But Rusty loved it and his dream was to get the checkered flag, which he did in 1984.

Racing together

The best part was that he did it with his sons. They raced together for several years, becoming the first father/son/son team to ever race the Daytona 24, much less finish. Rusty retired from racing in 1998 after a fourth in class and a 22nd overall finish in a Porsche 996 RSR at Daytona.

In 1982, the Schmidts bought their first residence in Vail and started another chapter of their lives. They owned the Hong Kong Cafe with a partner from 1985-1991, Cowboys and Indians in Minturn from 1990-2000, and also started Schmidt Construction, building custom homes in Cordillera, Arrowhead and Singletree as well as at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana.

But at the heart of it all, Rusty was a quiet, private guy whose favorite loves were his family and all of the things they did together. He loved the outdoors. He loved to golf, and hunt and he was a very proud Republican. Through Rusty's support and efforts, Eagle County is regularly praised for the outstanding job he did with sign placement during election years. And if that weren't enough, in 1984 he and Geri participated in the finals of the 1984 Illinois Curling championships.

Rusty is survived by his wife Geri, his two sons Scott (Diane) and Max, two grandsons Christopher and A.J. and a brother, Robert. A service is scheduled for St. Mary's Church in Eagle at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.